The girl has a teepee. That’s all you need to know to get a picture of who Kate Bellm is. I had been in her apartment once before and now, only a few weeks later, it’s a totally different place. There is art work all over her Berlin-Kreuzberg fair faced concrete loft. The artist Darius Voltra and Kate, the 24 year old photographer from London, just started making art together and could already open a museum with what they’ve created in the past months.
But the huge torn up prints leaning against the walls aren’t everything that has changed since I’ve last been here. Kate’s apartment is as ever changing as her life. It looks exactly like her brain must look like under a microscope – a place full of colorful, original memories and creations. Some found on the street, some „loaned“ from a club, others bought in Asia or at a Turkish kitsch-store around the corner.
There’s a pink porcelain penis, a huge surf board and loads of photos ripped out of magazines. It’s like a panopticon filled with every source of inspiration Kate has ever come across. And that’s a lot, for she seems to find inspiration in nearly everything. This sounds like some creepy old Lady with messier-syndrome but somehow all these things she has collected throughout the past three years she’s been living in Berlin seem to make sense. They all look like art, even the girly fairy lights hanging from the teepee she built around her bed. Even the beautiful clothes she has gotten as payment for fashion shoots, hanging everywhere in the apartment, don’t look like they’ve just been carelessly put there. Kate herself and her apartment, as woozily as they might seem at first, both have this certain artistic order only creative people can explain and produce but everyone is intrigued by.
First things first, why do you do what you do?
I just love it. When you take a great picture it makes you feel so happy through and through and this feeling seems to last forever. Being inspired and being an inspiration to others with what you create, is amazing.
And what exactly is it you do?
I am mainly a photographer and have been one since I was a teenager. I work a lot on fashion but not too much in a commercial sense. I love to shoot for young companies who don’t mind pushing the boundaries with advertising. For example, working with brands like Insight, which is an Australian surf company and shooting skateboarding in a new creative way. I also shoot a lot of editorial between Paris, London and Germany. For magazines like Nylon, Tush, Rollacoaster, Vogue Uk, Vice, Indie and Esquire
You just published a limited picture edition.
Yes, “Rockers” is my limited edition handmade zine. I made it with my friend Basti over the summer. We were basically glued to the photocopy machine- its all done by hand- all of it!! The guy who sold us the toner said, we bought more then an entire copy shop needs in a year. It’s a mixture of all my favorite shoots in Berlin – from skaters to nudes, musicians, friends and models!
You’re only twenty four- how did you get here this fast?
As soon as I left school, I went to Paris to study photography, There I started with fashion shoots. I’ve always been into photographing fashion. It started around the age of 13 or 14 in school. I went to an all girls’ boarding school so I would scout girls from the younger years and make shoots with them in the same way I do now, using colored backdrops and props. I even had a make up artist come. Then after Paris, I went back to London for a bit. That’s where it really kicked off. I started shooting a lot of tattoo guys in the east of London and I went to South Carolina, doing a huge story for the Esquire – basically riding around on the back of Harleys with the Harley gangs there.
When did you come to Berlin and why are you still here?
I came over three years ago when I got a job at Vice Magazine. It was literally a 5 day decision as I was meant to be staying in London but instead I packed my bags and never looked back.
Still don’t look back?
No Way. Berlin is my home now. It’s the best. First, I just love the lakes and the fact, that the people here are mainly creative and young. Everyone is inspiring alone and as far as creative projects go, you never walk alone. The city is also my dream location..the juxtaposition of ugly and beautiful buildings and secret little treasure you can find here….you find so much great things just lying on the streets. You can decorate your apartment on an afternoon walk around Neukölln.
Like what- what did you find on the streets?
Typewriters, surfboards, great pieces of wood to print on… food! (laughs) I once found a beautiful pineapple on the bonnet of an old car. Most of my furniture found it’s way into my apartment like this. Other peoples junk can always be transformed. All you need is some spray paint.
Do you use it to make art?
Yes of course ..the pieces of wood are definitely useful to make art. I use them to make the big wood prints you see all around my studio.. I recently started to work on making art with the artist Dariusz Voltra. He developed this printing technique over a few years and now we are collaborating and using my prints to make GIANT ones. It’ s a way to make the images look more raw and rough. Kind of like layers of advertising posters you see on the streets, ripped through and weakened. We are also dripping melted crayons all over the them so they have this amazing rainbow of molten mixed up tie dye color. All the prints are roughly 150cm by 200cm so there big and usually involve 25 sheets of A3 paper to make the image big enough. Dariusz and I are also developing other printing and destroying techniques with my photos…so there will be more to come!
Is there anything you brought with you from London?
One thing, this „Fuck“ Light over there. I got it from a tattoo artist. He had it in the store and I just loved it- so he let me buy it. It was the one thing I brought on the plane with me to Ber- lin, this glowing red „Fuck Light“. It’s broke now, though.
The rest you’ve collected over the past three years?
Yeah, I’ve got a lot of stuff as I love to collect random little things all the time. This chair I took from the roof at Tacheles during a shoot, and this chunk of wood came home with me after a night at Kater Holzig. But I do buy stuff as well…my most recent purchase is a 50 meter long pink giraffe carpet I found for 40 Euros in a Neukölln carpet store. Its the tackiest thing and the best carpet to shoot on – it looks like palm springs at some crazy grandma’s house. There’s also a 5 m surfboard, I found at Ohlauerstraße and spray painted back here, 5 mattresses so all my friends can sleep over, loads of books and small Mexican and Japanese objects- I have a lot of stuff piled up as you can see. And I sleep in a teepee!
A teepee, what are you, eight?
Actually, sometimes, that’s exactly how I feel.. And I’ve always wanted a teepee – why not have it now? One day I found this place, which makes handmade Ikat material in Majorca. I was there, making pictures and filming short movies with some skaters for a project called Topheadz.
So I bought tons of this fabric and brought it back to Berlin. Then I went to the forest outside of Berlin and got some wood. My friend and me built it in 2 hours one night. Obviously I had to make it the proper child’s dream, full of fairy lights and hanging flowers, dreamcatchers and small Indian wedding decorations. It’s quite instable, mostly held by the lamp it’s leaning against.
And that pink wheel over there, what’s its story?
It’s a Formula 1 wheel we found on the street. It is now pink as we used it for bombing paint powder down a half pipe for a shoot this summer with a skate project.
How do you come up with ideas like that?
Well in this case, we just found these small pots of really beautiful colored paint powder and tried a few out and even with a small amount the effect was so beautiful, I knew I had to do it bigger and better. So we went to the stockiest and brought bin bags full of pink, turquoise, red, yellows, purples…and basically catapulted bags of it at the boys as they skated down this amazing half pipe in a skate park near Berlin. Later we got the wheel, filed it full and threw it down…it looked amazing and the boys power glided through the powder…so it was all mixed together in the air. Then it started to rain and everything got wet – what a nightmare! But worth every moment! It was definitely one of my favorite shoots ever
Do you skate?
I wish I could be better, but Im not!. I stand on it, roll around a bit- but that’s it. I’m better in shooting the real pros’. we skate a lot around the apartment.
So your apartment is your studio? You shoot here a lot?
Yea all the time. This week I changed everything around and tried to build new sets out of all my existing furniture, which I’ve shot endlessly. I’m always trying to change it up so I can make new scenarios to shoot on. A lot of the things in my apartment used to be props. Before I shoot I usually spend a few days sourcing props. Funny mugs and frames, bed sheets, cushions, materials, phones.
The guns I found in a squat while I was shooting Daul Kim there. Bazookas, Ak47- fake ones of course. She loved them and we went back to my flat and did a shoot with. Only polaroids, black on white. The shoot is over, the guns stayed. Other props include loads of amazing candy – my lucky models! Colored smoke bombs, tons of different materials and backdrops, crazy golden Turkish photo frames and flowers!! I’m flower crazy in my shoots.
And what’s next?
I plan to build a box I can paint in different colors and put furniture inside so I can make whatever room anytime, like an ever changing space.
Do you travel a lot?
Yes, I love it. There’s so much inspiring you can find while traveling. I took this book with me to Asia to write down all my memories. For poloroids, illustrations, people I met, places I saw- I collected things from everywhere like stickers and funny matchboxes and pieces of material, just everything I liked…and stuck it all in there. In the end it was taking up half my bag, so much glue, glitter, stickers and pens!
You said, you started taking photos at the age of 13, who showed you and how did you get your first camera?
I first used my dads and then he got me one of my own. I had an amazing teacher at boarding school. There was a darkroom at school where I almost got one on one teaching as so only a few people did photography. It was amazing to be able to learn for 7 years in that darkroom developing all my own films, contact sheets and prints. It’s definitely the best way to learn photography and I’m glad digital didn’t really get going till I was eighteen.
But now you’re all digital?
Yes, but I just found my old canon AE-1 at home and I started using it again!
You’ve got five siblings, any one of them on the same track?
I grew up in a really big family. I have two sisters and three brothers. Everyone is so different, my younger brother is quite creative – he might turn out to be a photographer but with a totally different style. I definitely get a lot of inspiration from my family because of all of us being so different and we are all really close in age. Plus, I constantly got to meet new groups of people who were younger than me so I have a love of shooting teenagers. My sisters are in a lot of my photos. I always make them get naked when we’re traveling somewhere crazy together. My youngest sister even let me die her hair bright blue in china so we could take some crazy photos!
What do you think of your old work, looking at it today?
I still use some of my early shoots in my portfolio. I definitely always had kind of the same aesthetic…Flash, bright colors and crazy girls, so it’s funny to see how I have developed through the different people I have met along the way and been inspired by. Berlin has definitely helped me focus the style of my work.
Photography: Juliane Spaethe
Interview: Louisa Löwenstein